Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 1/4/13
It’s no surprise that a pitcher from the AL East with a career 4.30 ERA and 1.41 WHIP doesn’t seem like a very good draft choice. But if you take a deeper look into the stats, you’ll find that Jason Hammel is a very intriguing sleeper option for next year. Last year, he was coming off a season where he went 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and a pathetic 4.97 K/9; nobody wanted to draft Hammel last year. However, he proved to be a great sleeper pick and smashed his career bests in K/9 (8.62), ERA (3.43), and WHIP (1.24). Despite putting up his best season yet, owners are still hesitant to draft Hammel; a knee surgery limited him to 118 IP last year and just three starts after the All-Star break. However, the injury isn’t a problem anymore, so the only thing you should be concerned about with Hammel is if he can repeat his breakout season. Hammel seemed like a completely different pitcher last year as he threw his pitches with more authority and also threw his two-seamer more than ever before. Here are two charts showing Hammel’s increased velocity and change in repertoire: It wasn’t a huge leap, but Hammel’s velocity rose across the board in 2012, which led to batters making contact 77.3% of the time (career average of 82%) and swings-and-misses 9.9% of the time (career average of 8.1%). Not only were his strikeout numbers up, but the way batters made contact improved as well. Last year, Hammel allowed line drives 18.7% of the time, ground balls 53.2% and fly balls 28.1%. His career averages are 20.4%, 46.1% and 33.5% respectively. We can attribute this to the increased usage of his two-seam fastball, which tends to have a sinking motion. So not only did batters make less contact off of Hammel, but when they did they were less likely to get a hit. Last year, not only was Hammel’s FIP (3.29) a career best, but it was almost a full run higher than his career average (4.23). This tells us that Hammel’s 3.43 ERA was the result of skill, not luck. In fact, his FIP was lower than his ERA, which gives us the notion that he was a bit unlucky last year. While his .291 BABIP seems normal at a glance, it is a bit high considering his high GB%. According to MLBDepthCharts.com, Hammel is slated to be the number one starter for the Orioles heading into next season. While the Orioles aren’t the best offensive team, they do have a strong bullpen (Baltimore relievers had a 3.00 ERA last year, good for 5th best in the majors), so double-digit wins isn’t out of the question. It’s starting to look like Hammel will not only have another great season next year, but he will be undervalued again. As the old adage says, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Don’t get fooled twice by Hammel’s low draft stock and draft him accordingly.
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